Santa Marta (Distrito Turístico Cultural E Histórico), Colombia
The humidity was almost as heavy as my backpack, and beads of sweat slid down my drenched fringe before falling to the jungle floor. Occasionally a line of donkeys and mules would pass, carrying absurd loads on their underfed frames, and I would find new energy from somewhere. The promise of a world where wild beaches hug a tropical forest, flanked by brilliant blue ocean had brought us here, to Tayrona National Park in the north of Colombia. We met a local guy called Pablo at the entrance gate, high on life and keen to show us "the most frikkin beautiful place in the whole of the country man!" After an hour and a half of following him through the thick atmosphere of gigantic trees tangled in vines, we emerged onto a long open stretch of beach. Jurassic rocks sat where they had tumbled centuries ago, bleached by the sun and worn smooth by the licks of the sea. Palm tree's hunched over the sand, clinging to the last bit of jungle soil, and the breeze evaporated sweat from grateful faces. A further hour teetering along the coastline and we reached El Cabo campsite, set in a little bay. With it being a national holiday, apparently the entrance requirements seemed to be i) must be emerging middle class Colombian and ii) must be within the bracket of obese. Plastic packets that once contained E numbers congealed into an edible mass rolled around in the wind, and hairy bellies flopped over tight speedo's heading for the relief of the water. "Welcome to paradise!" Pablo grinned like a clown. We'd underestimated the cost of renting a tent in 'paradise', and I was almost thankful for the excuse the next day to go back to the city in order to get more cash out - a 6 hour round trip that tested my Spanish and how much I'd remembered of the local bus route.
On that evening when I returned, the heavens opened and put on a spectacular show. The dark sky was utterly relentless, hammering our un-waterproof tent. I got a plastic shhet and did my best to make a shelter, but devilish drips emerged from the corners and the waterloggged ground beneath dampened the floor. Matresses, bags, and spirits were soaked and it was a long, miserable night. I was so grateful to be there with B, as somehow we managed to giggle through it. Some paradise.
We tried our luck the next day with a campsite B had stumbled upon on a walk she did when I was back in town. It was nestled next to a deserted beach, and clean white hammocks were slung under a solid looking thatch hut. For the second time on my trip, I felt the joy of escaping Camp Grot and fleeing to cleanliness. The strong currents here meant the tantalising waters were forbidden, and so for the most part we had these long beaches to ourselves. I found a rock formation against which the waves crashed so violently, that if you stood the other side you were showered with refreshing salty spray that cooled you sufficiently enough to see you to the other end of the beach. Having brought all our own food, tinned and vaccum packed to withstand the heat (we later found out there were several decent restaurants around) we savoured some fresh coconut B had knocked out of a tree. The cavemen instincts came out as we bashed it repeatedly against a rock, and tore open the fibrous shell to reveal the little brown coconut, from which we drank and nibbled in glee.
I suppose it's inevitable that when you are perched high on a rock overlooking a beautiful empty beach that you reflect. This place was pristine, stunning and wild. But I was restless. Not bored, but restelss. I came to the conclusion that I'm happiest when I'm acheiving something, however small or insignificant. I could be in the most breathtaking place in the universe, but unless I was doing something; working, improving a skill, making a difference to someone, something, somehow, then it meant very little to me. With the first revelation of a trip that had brought up more questions than answers, I smiled and lay back on my little rock in asthetic paradise, at least that realisation could count as an acheivement for the day.